You are on page 1of 5

Strong Societies and Weak States: State-Society Relations and State Capabilities in the Third

World by Joel S. Migdal


Review by: Jeff Goodwin
Economic Development and Cultural Change, Vol. 40, No. 1 (Oct., 1991), pp. 217-220
Published by: The University of Chicago Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1154526 .
Accessed: 19/09/2013 03:15
Your use of the JSTOR archive indicates your acceptance of the Terms & Conditions of Use, available at .
http://www.jstor.org/page/info/about/policies/terms.jsp
.
JSTOR is a not-for-profit service that helps scholars, researchers, and students discover, use, and build upon a wide range of
content in a trusted digital archive. We use information technology and tools to increase productivity and facilitate new forms
of scholarship. For more information about JSTOR, please contact support@jstor.org.
.
The University of Chicago Press is collaborating with JSTOR to digitize, preserve and extend access to
Economic Development and Cultural Change.
http://www.jstor.org
This content downloaded from 134.115.2.116 on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 03:15:20 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Reviews
217
Joel
S. Migdal. Strong
Societies and Weak States:
State-Society
Rela-
tions and State
Capabilities
in the Third World.
Princeton,
N.J.:
Princeton
University Press,
1988.
Pp.
xxi + 296. $45.00
(cloth); $10.95
(paper).
Jeff Goodwin
New York
University
Much recent research on Third World
politics
has focused on the
ques-
tion of
democracy
versus authoritarianism.
Following
in the
footsteps
of
Barrington Moore, Jr.,
it
explores
the
origins
of
capitalist
democ-
racy, authoritarianism,
and socialist revolution in the
specific
context
of
postcolonial
or
"peripheral"
societies. Joel
Migdal's
new
book, by
contrast,
examines a
logically prior
issue:
Why
have
only
a
very
few
Third World states
developed
the
capacity
to
actually implement poli-
cies of
any
sort? The result of
Migdal's explorations
into this issue is
one of the most
stimulating
books on Third World
politics
that I have
read in a
long
time.
The first-and in
my
view more
compelling-half
of
Migdal's
book examines the determinants of state
capacities
in the Third World.
Migdal's analysis
is fleshed out
through
a
comparison
of two former
British
possessions,
Sierra Leone
(where
a
very
weak state
emerged)
and Palestine
(where
the
unusually strong
state of Israel
developed).
Migdal
concludes that one
necessary
condition for the
development
of
a
strong
state is a
rapid
and
generalized process
of social dislocation-
the
evisceration,
as it
were,
of
existing
institutions of social control-
brought
on
by
the
incorporation
of
peripheral
societies into the
capital-
ist
world-system. However,
this sort of dislocation characterized
Sierra Leone as much as
Palestine,
so
world-systemic
forces
alone,
Migdal concludes,
do not tell us the whole
story.
The other crucial
requirement
for the
development
of a
strong
state is a colonial
power
that channels resources to more or less centralized state
(or state-like)
organizations
that are
thereby
able to extend their control
throughout
the entire
society.
Such was the
legacy
of British
imperialism
in Pales-
tine, astutely exploited by
Zionist labor leaders via the so-called Jewish
Agency. By contrast,
where the colonial
power
channeled resources to
locally
based
chiefs, landlords,
and other
"strongmen,"
social control
became diffused
through
a web of nonstate
organizations, creating
the
"strong
societies" of the book's title. This was the
legacy
of British
rule in Sierra Leone and the
typical progeny,
in
fact,
of colonialism
more
generally. Migdal
concludes
that
social scientists need to exam-
ine "the
long-term
intended and unintended effects of outside
political
forces-particularly
the assertion of autonomous state interests-on
colonized societies" as well as "the
impact
of the
expanding world
market"
(p. 102, my emphasis).
This content downloaded from 134.115.2.116 on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 03:15:20 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
218 Economic
Development
and Cultural
Change
This is a conclusion that is sure to
please practitioners
of "state-
centered"
social science.
However, Migdal
is concerned that this theo-
retical current has fetishized the state and failed to examine the
ways
in which social structures have
shaped
the
configuration
of the
very
states that have been cast
by
state-centered theorists
(erroneously)
as
independent
variables. In the second half of his
book, therefore, Mig-
dal looks at how the diffuse social control that characterizes
"strong
societies" shapes
state
organizations
and
policies.
His
conclusion,
based on a
fascinating analysis
of Nasser's "revolution from above"
in
Egypt (with
occasional
glances
at Mexico and
India),
is that
strong
societies have
prevented
weak and even
moderately strong
states from
centralizing
social control. The
fragmented
structure of such
societies,
moreover, shapes
the state in a
variety
of
ways
that
actually
reinforce
such social
fragmentation-by producing
accommodations between
the state and local
strongmen, discouraging
the
development
of ratio-
nal
bureaucracy
in state
organizations, facilitating
the
"capture"
of
local state institutions
by
sectional
interests, encouraging capitulations
to the demands of
powerful capitalists,
etc.
Migdal
concludes that in
the absence of additional severe social dislocations "it is
unlikely
that
new
strong
states will
emerge
in the foreseeable future"
(p. 277).
I
found
Migdal's analysis (and prognosis) generally convincing,
but there are a number of
ways
in which he could have written an
even more
powerful
book. First of
all,
since Israel
(a
rather unusual
case,
to
say
the
least)
is the
only strong
state
Migdal
discusses at
any
length,
it is difficult to know whether he has
actually pinpointed
the
necessary
and sufficient conditions for the
development
of
strong
states.
Migdal
does note in
passing
some other
examples
of
strong
Third World
states-including Cuba, China, Vietnam, Taiwan,
and
both Koreas-but it is far from clear that these cases
support
the
theory developed
in the first half of the book. Western
(and Japanese)
imperialists certainly
did not channel resources to centralized state
organizations
in all of these societies.
Arguably,
it was
precisely
their
failure to do so that allowed
anti-imperialist
revolutionaries
(as op-
posed
to
collaborators)
to become
strong
in several of these
countries,
seize the banner of
nationalism,
and
eventually topple
weak colonial
or neocolonial
regimes.' Curiously
absent from
Migdal's
list of
strong
Third World states is South
Africa,
a
country
much more
comparable
to
Israel,
one would have
thought,
than Sierra Leone.2
In
any event,
Migdal's theory
of
strong-state
formation will need to be tested and
refined
against
more than one case.
Another
way
in
which
Migdal's
ideas
might
be tested and refined
is
by disaggregating
the notion of state
strength
and
using
more focused
comparisons
to
gauge particular
state
capacities. Indeed, a
problem
with the second half of the book, in
sharp
contrast to the first, is a
certain deafness to variations in state
capacities among
the broad
group
This content downloaded from 134.115.2.116 on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 03:15:20 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
Reviews 219
of
moderately strong
states. All such states come across as rather
impotent
in
Migdal's
account-and
perpetually
doomed to
impotence-in light
of the
fragmentation
of social control with which
they
must
grapple.
Yet
surely
some such
states,
at certain
times,
have
been more effective than others in
implementing
certain sorts of
poli-
cies. There is much more to be said about
why
states of more or
less
comparable strength
have
proven
better or worse at
encouraging
economic
development, redistributing
land and other
resources,
foster-
ing
a national
identity, encouraging political participation, defending
their frontiers
against
other
states,
and so on. And the
analysis
of these
issues would seem to demand finer distinctions than that between state
strength
and weakness.
I also found
Migdal's polemic against
state-centered
sociology
to
be somewhat
confusing.
He sometimes writes as if this tradition
simply
assumes that all states are
strong
and autonomous-not a
particularly
astute
assumption
when it comes to the Third World. But state-
centered
sociology simply suggests
that the
organization
of
states,
be
they
weak or
strong, may help
to
explain why they (and
other social
actors and
institutions)
do what
they do;
it directs our
attention,
in
other
words,
to factors
typically neglected
in
society-centered explana-
tions. A
given country
need not itself be state
centered, however,
for
a state-centered
analysis
to
pay
dividends.3
Finally,
since
Migdal
is well aware that the
development
of
strong
states "has been
accompanied by
attacks on the identities and lives of
the most vulnerable elements of
society,
minorities and the
poor" (p.
xx),
it would have been
interesting
had he considered the
preconditions
for the
development
of states that are both
strong
and amenable to
some sort of
popular
control. In
fact, Migdal's analysis
seems to
sug-
gest
an
explanation
for the
paucity
of states in the Third World that
are at once
strong
and
democratic, although
it is an
explanation
he
does not
develop.
Since the formation of
strong states, according
to
Migdal, requires
severe social
dislocations,
the sort of
popular
or even
elite associations that
might
act as a
countervailing
force
against
the
state
simply
do not
exist;
nor are such associations
always nurtured,
he
shows, by
colonialists.
Democratization,
in other
words, presup-
poses
a certain
type
of
strong society (as
de
Tocqueville argued
so
long ago),
but the
latter, Migdal demonstrates,
has acted as a formida-
ble barrier to the
development
of a
strong
state. Whatever one thinks
of this
particular
line of
reasoning,
the
point
is that there is
certainly
no reason for
political sociologists
interested in state
capacities
to
carry
on their work in isolation from current debates about democrati-
zation in the Third World (or
vice
versa).
An
adequate
examination of this last issue, to be fair, would
prob-
ably
have
required
an additional volume. Yet the
principal
value of
this book, in
my view, lies as much in the broad
array
of research
This content downloaded from 134.115.2.116 on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 03:15:20 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions
220 Economic
Development
and Cultural
Change
problems
it will
invariably generate
in the attentive reader's
imagina-
tion as in the
specific contributions,
theoretical and
empirical,
that it
offers, impressive
as
they
are. This has
always
been the mark of semi-
nal contributions to social
science,
among
which this book must now
be counted. No one who writes about state
capacities
and
public policy
in the Third World can afford to
neglect Migdal's ideas,
and I
expect
that his formulations will be
amply tested, criticized,
and elaborated
in much future work.
One final note: this
is, by
and
large,
an
extremely
well-written
and
well-organized
book.
Migdal
uses
metaphors masterfully,
eschews
trendy
social science
jargon,
and never
strays
far from the
principal
tack of his
analysis.
As a
result,
this is a book that should be accessible
to most
undergraduates and,
for the rest of
us,
a veritable model of
clear and
engaging scholarship.
Notes
1.
See, e.g., my
"Colonialism and Revolution in Southeast Asia: A Com-
parative Analysis,"
in Revolution in the
World-System,
ed.
Terry
Boswell
(New
York:
Greenwood, 1989), pp.
59-78.
2.
See, e.g., Stanley
B.
Greenberg,
Race and State in
Capitalist Develop-
ment:
Comparative Perspectives (New Haven, Conn.,
and London: Yale Uni-
versity Press, 1980).
3.
I
thank John A. Hall for
pointing
this out.
Ken Tout.
Ageing
in
Developing
Countries. New York: Oxford Univer-
sity Press,
1989.
Pp.
xvi + 334.
John J. Carroll
Chevy Chase,
Maryland
This book is full of
interesting
accounts of how local
organizations
working
with limited resources under difficult conditions have been
making
a difference. Ken Tout's focus is on
problems facing rapidly
aging elderly populations
in
developing
countries and on the role
played by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)
in
helping
to solve
them. Tout believes that
despite
United Nations efforts
(through
the
1982 World
Assembly
on
Aging),
there is an
abysmal
lack of focus on
the
plight
of millions. He
emphasizes
the need for more resources to
cope
with
problems
of the
elderly anticipated
as
demographic
shifts
proceed.
His fear is that
governments
lack the will to
plan
before crises
materialize. He makes a
good
case that NGOs
can,
and in
many
areas
do,
move in to fill
part
of the void.
Given the low
priority assigned by many governments
to
problems
of
elderly persons
in
poor countries,
Tout's
story
about
HelpAge
and
similar
private
efforts is
timely.
The author
speaks
in
seeming despair
This content downloaded from 134.115.2.116 on Thu, 19 Sep 2013 03:15:20 AM
All use subject to JSTOR Terms and Conditions